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Louisiana Supreme Court issues new Order in response to spread of COVID-19 in Louisiana

The Louisiana Supreme Court issued a new Order today, considering the continuing spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards’ declaration of public health emergencies, President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on March 13, 2020, the Orders of this Court dated March 16 and March 20, 2020, and in consideration of public health recommendations to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus and slowing the spread of the disease while balancing the need to protect the constitutional rights and public safety of the citizens of the state by maintaining access to Louisiana courts.

An abridged version of the court’s new order reads as follows.

Courts must take immediate measures to limit access to courtrooms and other spaces, with absolute minimum physical contact, to practice social distancing and limit court activity to only the essential functions.

Courts are further instructed to follow all guidelines issued by the Center for Disease Control, the President and the Governor, and to further limit access to the courtroom and other spaces to the maximum number of people.

All essential court functions should be conducted with the use of video and telephone conferencing whenever possible.

The essential criminal matters should be conducted via video and/or telephone conferencing with increased frequency to alleviate potential overcrowding of jails, which is a public health emergency for citizens and jail personnel.

The essential civil matters should be conducted via video and/or telephone conferencing, including but not limited to civil protective orders, child in need of care proceedings, emergency child custody matters, proceedings for children removed from their home by emergency court order, proceedings related to emergency interdictions and mental health orders, temporary restraining orders and injunctions, and matters of public health related to this crisis and other emergency matters necessary to protect the health, safety and liberty of individuals as determined by each court, all matters that are resolved by agreement of the parties and with the approval of the court that do not involve any appearance at the court may proceed during the pendency of this order. 

This authority does not extend to any matters suspended by executive action by the Governor, including but not limited to evictions, courts should work with parish clerks to encourage in-person filings of court pleadings to be replaced with filing by other means, such as U.S. mail, e-filing, email or facsimile. In all criminal, juvenile and civil matters handled on an emergency or expedited basis, a record shall be kept under the direction of the acting judge for each action. 

“In compliance with the Governor’s stay at home mandate released yesterday, it is the Louisiana Supreme Court’s responsibility to modify daily operations to reduce traffic to our courts by reducing the number of individuals in one space,” Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson said today. “The circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 Pandemic are ever-changing and the Court is committed to supporting government efforts to flatten the curve of newly contracted cases by altering the means by which we interact. While remaining dedicated to due process and the rule of law, we continue to balance the legal needs of our citizens with their safety which includes the safety of our court staff.”